What Kind of Leaders Retain Employees During The Great Resignation?

The great resignation is here, and it’s impacting businesses in many different sectors. However, some companies are thriving and maintaining staff while others are struggling. What’s their secret to success? They have great leadership! 

Managers in these organizations either had leadership styles that motivated employees to stick around, or they successfully adapted their approach to leadership in light of changing perspectives on work.

Understanding Why People are Leaving Their Jobs

Leaders who have been able to keep their staff start with a clear understanding of the motivations driving the great resignation. It turns out that these reasons are quite varied. 

Workers are concerned about their physical and mental health on the job. Compensation is also a factor, and work-life balance is as well. None of these thighs should be surprising, given the events of the past few years.

What many leaders may not realize is that there are other reasons for this mass exodus as well. Most of these relate directly to frustration with organizational leadership. 

Workers are also leaving jobs where they don’t feel valued by their managers, don’t think of themselves as part of a caring team, or lack a future with their current employer. Workers also cite lack of flexibility and autonomy as reasons for quitting.

Unexpected Facts About the Great Resignation

There are some other things that leaders should know before they decide how to respond to the great resignation. First, people aren’t just leaving their jobs in record numbers — they are often leaving without having secured new employment. That speaks to the level of demoralization and burnout that people are experiencing.

Further, managers who haven’t experienced workers quitting shouldn’t assume all is well. Some workers don’t have the privilege of resigning. That doesn’t mean they are happy or engaged at work.

Finally, the post-pandemic return to the office has been a traumatic adjustment for many people. Employees spent the better part of 18 months balancing the roles of worker, caregiver, parent, and educator. 

Now, many have been ordered back to work, where they’ve lost the flexibility they’ve enjoyed. Often that’s been a decision they had no control over, with no clear reason given. Worse, many leaders have simply expected their teams to adjust as if nothing ever changed.

What Do Employees Want?

At the end of the day, most workers aren’t asking for anything beyond reason. For example, most workers understand it might be necessary for them to be present in the office. 

However, they do want some flexibility and autonomy. That might look like a management policy that dictates that workers must be in the office three days a week but allows workers to choose which days and hours they are present.

Employees also want:

  • Empathetic leadership
  • Policies that make sense
  • Benefits that protect their well-being
  • Respect for their time outside of work

It’s important to note that a record number of businesses were started last year. This growth in new starts is a clear indicator that people want to spend their time at work using their talents and doing things that are fulfilling to them.

How Leaders Can Pivot

One common characteristic among leaders who are struggling the most is a tendency to manage activities instead of outcomes. These are the people who believe they aren’t being strong or effective leaders if their teams aren’t adhering to a strict schedule, in a designated location, and on task a specified number of hours each week.

Because of this, one of the most important shifts leaders can make is to move from a focus on activities to a focus on outcomes. If employees can achieve the same results working fewer hours, at home, or with more breaks, let them. By all means, don’t punish them for their productivity by piling on more work or responsibilities.

With that being said, this can be more difficult than people realize. For many leaders, this shift means letting go of long-held ideas about work ethic. 

Also, management in many organizations exists in layers. Front-line and middle managers may have limited control over the policies they enforce. This layering is why changes must be made across the organization.

Empathy Is a Must in Successful Leaders

While company leaders certainly struggled with anxiety and uncertainty over the past two years, their experiences haven’t been the same as the people working under them. In most cases, they possessed financial security, autonomy, and options that many workers do not. 

It’s extraordinarily important for them to be aware of those privileges. Otherwise, they can easily fall prey to thought processes and responses that lack empathy. For example, “If I can figure out childcare for my family, then my employees should be able to do the same.”

It also requires an empathetic approach to understand that workers may have a different relationship with work than managers. Leaders who have largely tied their personal identities and worth to the work that they do may struggle to relate to team members who don’t feel the same way. 

The leaders who choose to label these workers as lazy or lacking in work ethic are going to struggle as the great resignation shows no signs of slowing. Conversely, leaders who can understand the life experiences of younger workers that have led them to view work differently will fare better.

Resist the Temptation to Return to Old Methods and Behaviors

There is no doubt that even the most willing managers are going to struggle with these changes. Leaders and workers will experience friction. When this happens, there is going to be the temptation to revert to old methods and authoritarian leadership styles that worked well in the past.

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